Approximately two weeks after signing his first professional contract, right-hander Cody Buckel is set to make his professional debut.
The Texas Rangers' second-round pick in this summer's draft is a Southern California native and a product of Simi Valley's Royal High School. He signed for a slightly above-slot $590,000 bonus.
Buckel fits the mold of recent early-round Rangers draft picks Robbie Ross (2nd, '08) and Robbie Erlin (3rd, '09). He is a quality arm with good present stuff and projects to have at least three quality pitches, though he doesn't have the most projectable body.
The general consensus on all three––Buckel, Ross, and Erlin––seemed to be that had they been a few inches taller, they would have been sure-fire first-round picks with the advanced stuff and pitchability.
As the 6-foot-1, 170-pound hurler explains in the following interview, he has a four-pitch repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball (some reports say he has touched 94 mph at times), a curveball, a cutter-slider, and a changeup.
Buckel's two primary pitches are his fastball and 74-77 mph curveball. He also mixes in a low-80s slider-cutter hybrid to go along with the occasional changeup.
MLB.com profiled the prospect with a pre-draft video and scouting report at this link.
The 18-year-old received national attention in 2009 for his starring role in his school's production of "High School Musical."
But make no mistake about it––while Buckel says he enjoyed his theater days, he is quick to point out that they are behind him. He's a full-time professional baseball player now.
Now that Buckel has signed his first professional contract, the Rangers have assigned him to the rookie-level Arizona League, where he will pitch the remainder of the season with the Surprise Rangers.
Buckel is set to make his professional debut on Tuesday night, pitching one inning of relief against the AZL Mariners.
Jason Cole: Tell me what it was like to finally get the deal done and get your professional career underway.
Cody Buckel: It's definitely awesome. It is a turning point of my life, basically. I'm going from a high school student to playing professional ball. So it's a huge turn in my life, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for me. I'm hoping for the best.
Cole: What was going through your mind on draft day? What were your thoughts when the Rangers selected you in the second round?
Buckel: That day, I actually had finals at school. So the draft was in the back of my mind because I had to get a good grade in English class first. I was doing that and my parents were at home. The scouts were calling them, and they knew what I wanted. The Rangers called and they said what I wanted. They agreed and my mom was calling me during the class and I found out. I was ecstatic about it.
Cole: Did you have any expectations going into the draft? Did you end up getting picked about where you expected?
Buckel: A lot of teams told me they were going to pick me and ended up passing me up. I was getting a little nervous. The Rangers were basically my last hope for a pick. If I didn't go with them, I might not have ended up going in the draft at all.
Cole: Who was your area scout out there?
Buckel: It was Todd Guggiana.
Cole: How much contact did you have with him during your high school career?
Buckel: They didn't start talking to me until about halfway through my senior year. But he came to the house and we talked and then we kept in touch. He invited me out to a showcase camp. I went there in a collared shirt––I didn't participate because of the NCAA rules.
After that, they were calling and asking me what I wanted. We had a discussion about the draft. So he was in pretty good contact with me from the time he visited my house.
Cole: The Rangers have a number of players from Southern California in the system. Going into the organization, do you know anybody that you played with or against at any point?
Buckel: None that I recognize. I actually saw familiar faces that I thought I might have played against. I actually recognized the guy from Puerto Rico, Alexander Claudio. I played against him on the USA national team a couple years back, and he was on the Puerto Rican national team. I recognize him. Other than that, that's the only one I really know. But I see some faces that I've played against in Area Codes or summer ball teams.
Cole: If you can, just give me a bit of a scouting report of you on the mound. What kind of pitcher are you, and what do you have in your repertoire?
Buckel: I throw a fastball, a curveball, a changeup, and a cutter. It's a cutter-slider, but it's more of a cutter. I'm an aggressive pitcher. I like to attack hitters early on and prove myself against them. If they can hit it, they can hit it.
But challenging them with aggressive fastballs in the zone and staying down in the zone seems to work out––70 percent of the time the good hitters are getting out. So the advantage is always toward me if I have my stuff on and I'm throwing strikes.
I just try to be consistent in the zone. I try to attack the hitters with fastballs and, especially with the wood bats now, try to pitch to contact. It's a lot different than an aluminum bat––the ball doesn't go as far and doesn't come off as hard. I'm going to be pitching around the zone and trying to get some ground balls.
Cole: Do you throw both a two-seam fastball and a four-seam, or is it one or the other?
Buckel: It's probably like 80 percent four-seams. And then working inside it'll be two-seams––or two-seams away to left-handed hitters.
Cole: Is there a secondary pitch that you kind of use as your go-to offering right now?
Buckel: Yeah, that's my curveball. I've developed a good feel for a curveball. I've been pretty aggressive with it in two-strike counts, or even behind in the count if I need a get-me-over strike to get the hitter fooled or something like that. The curveball is definitely the second pitch I go to.
Cole: You mentioned the changeup. I know a lot of high school pitchers with good arms don't throw the changeup as often because hit speeds up hitters' bats. Did you throw the change much in high school?
Buckel: Actually, no. My first two years, I lived fastball-curveball. My junior year, I added a little slider––a little cutter––to tie up left-handers and get inside their hands. My senior year, I started throwing my changeup a little bit more.
I'm still trying to get a feel for it. It's a new pitch and I'm not quite 100 percent comfortable with it. That's definitely the big pitch I'm going to have to throw a lot and get a good feel for.
Cole: The changeup will obviously be a big focus for you in pro ball. But in general, can you talk about some areas of your game that you really want to bring along with pro coaching over the next couple months?
Buckel: Definitely throwing fastballs lower in the zone. In high school, I kind of got away with fastballs up in the zone and above the belt. But in high school, they couldn't catch up to it as well. Here it's basically as big as a basketball coming down the middle.
I'm going to have to start working down a little bit more. And then when I work up, it has to be up-up and effective––changing the eye level. I can't miss out over the middle of the plate anymore. I've just got to limit my mistakes with my fastball mostly. And I have to perfect that changeup and become more mechanically sound.
Cole: Had you not signed with the Rangers, you would have been attending Pepperdine University. What drew you to the school?
Buckel: Pepperdine was always my number one choice since I was eight years old. I love the location––it's close to home. And the baseball wasn't too bad. A lot of good players come out of there like Dan Haren. It's a Christian school, and I'm a devout Christian. It's a beautiful campus right next to the beach.
Everything would have been perfect there. It would have been the perfect lifestyle and a great place to go learn and go to school. I never really had another choice. I guess my second choice would have been UC Irvine or UCLA or something like that. Maybe Florida. But Pepperdine was always on top.
Cole: Was it a difficult decision in the end? Or did you know you were ready to go pro once you got the offer?
Buckel: Yeah, once I got my offer, it was exactly what I wanted and it was an easy decision for me. I didn't think twice about it. I wanted to get into pro ball as quick as I could and learn what the professionals do. It was an easy decision for me.
Cole: You've gotten some national media attention from your theater background over the last few years, particularly when you starred in your school's production of High School Musical. Does it matter to you that sometimes the media's focus about you seemed to go away from baseball?
Buckel: I enjoyed doing High School Musical. I'm not going to lie, it was a lot of fun. But pitching is the number one thing in my life. Playing baseball is the number one thing in my life. That's just something I do in the off-time for fun.
It doesn't really bother me what the press is saying. If they want to do all the High School Musical stuff, then they can go for it. But in the end, it's not really going to affect me mentally.
If they wanted to talk about me pitching, that'd make more sense because that's what I'm doing. High School Musical was in the past. But whatever the press has to say doesn't bother me mentally. I just go out and pitch like I do every day.
Cole: I'm sure you're looking to your first professional outing on Tuesday. But before we get into that, do you know anything about your role on the team? Are you going to be pitching in relief?
Buckel: Yeah, definitely out of the bullpen. They already have their set of starters. Unfortunately for me, coming in late––I guess it's not unfortunate, but I'm going to be pitching and helping the team out of the bullpen.
That's perfectly fine with me. I need to get experience with the hitters––professional hitters––before making a start. So I want to get more comfortable with the feel and atmosphere with one or two innings at a time.
Cole: What are your thoughts going into your first outing?
Buckel: I'm definitely excited. I probably won't get too much sleep tonight, even though it's just one inning. It's my first time being a professional out there. But I'm just going to stick to my plan and attack hitters just like I was in high school. If they hit the ball, they have to prove it.
Buckel excited to begin pro career
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